Dick Armey Brings Gun to FreedomWorks Purge; Ends up Coaxed out by Shadowy Libertarian, Reports Washington Post


Happier days

The Washington, D.C. nonprofit, limited-government political world is no stranger to testy personal/personnel conflicts, but the fallout at the Tea Party-connected FreedomWorks between co-bigwigs Matt Kibbe and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey has been particularly severe.

First, Mother Jones broke the news at the beginning of the month that Armey was resigning on decidedly non-amicable terms, in part over what he described as "matters of principle." Follow-up reporting by various outlets indicated that the conflict came to a boil in the summer over the handling of Kibbe's book Hostile Takeover: Resisting Centralized Government's Stranglehold on America, that Kibbe had been placed on temporary leave for a few days in September, and that Armey had eventually agreed to leave in part due to an $8 million payday.

Now comes a Washington Post article flush with lurid details about the split. It begins like this:   

The day after Labor Day, just as campaign season was entering its final frenzy, FreedomWorks, the Washington-based tea party organization, went into free fall.

Richard K. Armey, the group's chairman and a former House majority leader, walked into the group's Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist. The aim was to seize control of the group and expel Armey's enemies: The gun-wielding assistant escorted FreedomWorks' top two employees off the premises, while Armey suspended several others who broke down in sobs at the news.

The coup lasted all of six days. By Sept. 10, Armey was gone — with a promise of $8 million — and the five ousted employees were back. The force behind their return was Richard J. Stephenson, a reclusive Illinois millionaire who has exerted increasing control over one of Washington's most influential conservative grass-roots organizations.

Stephenson, the founder of the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America and a director on the FreedomWorks board, agreed to commit $400,000 per year over 20 years in exchange for Armey's agreement to leave the group.

Who is Richard Stephenson (who, like Kibbe, did not comment for the article

Richard J. Stephenson


Stephenson has a passion for libertarian politics stretching back to the 1960s, when he attended seminars featuring "Atlas Shrugged" author Ayn Rand and economist Murray Rothbard, according to those who know him at FreedomWorks. Like Armey, Stephenson was an early supporter of Citizens for a Sound Economy, the conservative lobbying group founded by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch in 1984 that split into FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity 20 years later. The Kochs, known for bankrolling a variety of conservative causes, kept control of AFP, while Stephenson and Armey stayed with FreedomWorks.

I know Dick Armey, am friends with Matt Kibbe, and have zero insight into the conflict, other than knowing through experience that the way these things look from the outside are often deceiving, particularly when viewed through the lens of a mainstream media instinctively allergic to billionaire non-Democratic political donors. The whole Washington Post story is worth reading for those interested in such things. UPDATE: As is this recent update from Mother Jones, which includes some testy memoage from Kibbe.

Kibbe's Reason archive here. has interviewed him (sometimes with Armey) several times in the past, most recently in July:

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  1. …particularly when viewed through the lens of a mainstream media instinctively allergic to billionaire non-Democratic political donors.

    No! I choose to picture Armey as carrying out an ineffectual version of Saddam Hussein’s purge of traitors.

    1. Maybe he thought they were all gay and was trying to carry out a Night of the Long Knives.

      1. I don’t know any gay people at FW. Gay friendly nerds, maybe even gay friendly metrosexuals. But not gays, out of the half dozen people I have met there. None of the gay libertarians I know in DC work there.

        I am willing to be a token hire.

    2. I choose to picture him in a tuxedo t-shirt, since it says “I’m going to be comfortable, but I’m also here to party.”

  2. I am not surprised the founder of a group like Cancer Treatment Centers of America is a rent-seeking TPer. The group offers nothing in the way of innovation (spiritual healing?) and no doubt sucks off the Medicare teat.

    1. It must really chap your hide that this crony is getting your parent’s money instead of a crony improved by The One.

    2. I’ve always like CTCA because their first spokesperson was Peggy Kessler, the tall, country, horse riding, pants wearing survivor of pancreatic cancer. I don’t know what her personal story is, but since breast and other female related cancers are supposedly more common in lesbians, I always thought she was smart marketing.

      1. Breast cancer occurs far less in women who nurse kids, which partly explains why it’s more common in lesbians.

  3. R Lee Ermey what?

  4. I know zip about any of this.

    I did, however, accidentally stumble across Kibbe’s recent appearance on Washington Journal on Cspan, and I thought he did a pretty good job of laying out the non- big government position.

    1. Kibbe’s great at articulating his message and seems like a nice guy. So far, I haven’t read anything to change my impression of him. If anything, doesn’t this show that he’s admirably sticking to his convictions?

  5. And, of course, assuming this is all true, Dick Armey shows himself to be a typical big government apparatchik by bringing his hired heat to do the brandishing of weapons and other dirty work.

    This reducers, if possible, my regard for him.

    1. All the cool think tank heads carry weapons now. Media Matters David Brock was just busted in the past year for having his executive assistance carry an illegal Glock and stay with him to protect him from snipers. Unlike the Brock glock, Armey’s arms may have been licensed.

      Reason should survey John Allison, David Boaz, Arhur Brook and Yaron Brock to see what weapons they bring to work beyond rapier wits or acid tongues.

      1. What good is a Glock against a sniper?

        Seriously … Brock either does not understand the modus operandi of a sniper or he fails to grasp the limitations of a handgun.

        It is, however, typically hypocritical for a left-wing activist to keep and bear arms that he would deny others.

  6. My theory was that Armey was less radical than Kibbe and that only getting rid of Armey’s would allow FreedomWorks to be “hostile” toward Boehner and the RINOs.

    I talked to one of the exiting FreedomWork’s staffers at a DC libertarian Christmas party and he said I was wrong, but didn’t share the real skinny with me beyond saying Armey’s was upset that Kibbe got to keep the royalties on books Kibbe wrote.

    Is that unusual? Does the employer usually get them?

    1. Read the Mother Jones link after the UPDATE above, re: your theory.

      1. Thanks. When MJ, which is probably one of the better leftover periodicals, first published their exclusive, I posted my theory on their web version. They ran their exclusive with no interpretation other than a gleeful “the tea party is blowing up from within” so I pointed out that it looked more like a tea party purification by libertarians. I don’t think the average MJ reader even understood what that meant.

  7. counter-allegations that Armey and his allies tried to turn FreedomWorks into a partisan outfit backing establishment Republicans over tea party insurgents.

    Huh. How shocking.

  8. So, who comes up with all that crazy stuff? Wow.

  9. Richard K. Armey, the group’s chairman and a former House majority leader, walked into the group’s Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist.

    The odds that the aide was legally carrying in D.C. are just about zero, as far as I know. Naturally, he should be allowed to carry anywhere he damn well pleases, but like Dick Gregory breaking D.C. law by possessing an illegal high-cap magazine during an on-air anti-gun rant, this ought to be investigated and prosecuted if the law was broken.

    Until the elites are made to suffer for breaking the laws they impose or advocate for the rest of us, we don’t live under the rule of law, and those laws are less likely to be changed.

    1. The politicos never apply the rules to themselves…..ader-post/

  10. I’m interested in all the lurid details because recently I decided to jump on the FreedomWorks bandwagon. So far, I haven’t been dissuaded. Let me know if I’m being naive.

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